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Welcoming our new planning director, Bill Fulton

By Anthony King | SDUN Editor

Voice of San Diego CEO Scott Lewis sat down with the city’s new planning director, Bill Fulton, at Politifest Aug. 3 to talk about one of the things the former mayor of Ventura, Calif. was hired for: planning neighborhoods.

Naturally, the discussion touched on several issues specific to Uptown, including the status of Community Plan Updates, issues of density and infrastructure, and the proposed lid over state Route 94.

Bill Fulton at the Voice of San Diego Politifest Aug. 3 (Photo by Sam Hodgson / samhodgsonphotography.com)

Bill Fulton at the Voice of San Diego Politifest Aug. 3
(Photo by Sam Hodgson / samhodgsonphotography.com)

First however, Fulton laid out exactly why he chose to stay in the position after the recent sexual harassment scandal that has marred Mayor Bob Filner’s tenure, seeing several Filner appointees leave.

“The vision that has been laid out to focus on the neighborhoods and revitalize some of the neighborhoods that have been overlooked, those challenges remain and they are just as relevant and just as significant as ever,” Fulton said. “I don’t want to walk away from that.”

Filner appointed Fulton planning director in June, and Fulton moved into the position in July 8, four weeks before the Politifest discussion and while the Filner scandal continued to unfold. Fulton is a nationally recognized urban planning expert, publisher of the California Planning & Development Report and, most recently, the former vice president of Smart Growth America, a think tank that promotes urban development.

It was smart growth – a term used to describe denser neighborhoods surrounding amenities like businesses and transit instead of suburban sprawl – that Lewis initially discussed, saying “growth” and “density” were not particularly friendly terms to many in Uptown.

“In my experience of 30 years in California, what I have found is that when a community tries to deny that growth is going to occur, that backfires,” Fulton said. “To simply try to deny that it’s gonna happen usually means it’s gonna happen anyway, and it doesn’t happen as well as it could.”

San Diego is currently updating nine community plans, which will in turn direct the city’s overall General Plan. There are four Community Plan Updates in Uptown: the Greater Golden Hill Community Plan, North Park Community Plan, Old Town Plan and Uptown Community Plan.

The plans will provide a “framework for the future,” Fulton said, for both “public investment and private development” in the communities.

“In my mind, we will do some great plans. We will listen to the community,” he said. “Some communities will be more interested in having more development than others, and that’s fine. We will focus that additional development in the right locations as much as we can”

Fulton is no stranger to Uptown, as he worked on the North Park Update several years ago as a consultant. Now living in Little Italy, he said he is “intensely involved in the communities and neighborhoods,” every day.

“Our goal is to balance the interests in each neighborhood against the interests of the city as a hole,” he said. He also said his goal was to move the plans along faster and to make the plans target changes more effectively.

In Golden Hill, for example, Fulton acknowledged that a lid or cap over SR 94, as part of the planned Express Lanes Project, was something residents really want.

“That’s something that’s under discussion. It’s a very expensive thing to do,” he said, adding that a similar proposal is being considered in Ventura. “As we move forward and we build more stuff, that … can help to repair our neighborhoods, rather than further damage them.”

Ultimately, Fulton said Uptown was “doing fine” and that there might not be many things the planning groups desire that are not achievable. The point, he said, is dealing with things on a “neighborhood-by-neighborhood basis.”

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